Sunday, December 4, 2011

Epic Skyrim Review

The Elder Scrolls has been my favorite game series since Morrowind. It was the first time I had felt like I was in a world that, truly, existed beyond the periphery of my character's vision. This was only improved on in Oblivion, and Skyrim was hyped to be the epitome of the openness and expansiveness: Taken to the next level. I, like many of you, had been waiting for this game for quite some time. And for the most part, it delivered. I mean, it has motherfucking dragons!

I Placed it With My Other Enchanted Items
I decided to wait until I got all the achievements unlocked and did all the interesting story components, before writing this. I don't use strategy guides and sparsely use the Internet for help. I try to avoid it as much as possible, if not outright completely. And I don't believe in video game instructions. So, it took me much longer to accomplish this feet than other people who, also, purchased their copy on Nov. 11, 2011.

I Really Like This Map That Comes With It

The Graphics
As everyone knows, the graphics have been taken up a notch no matter which platform you're playing it on. Obviously, playing it on a PC is going to offer the best, most detailed experience. But in general, the game looks great on everything; this needs no further elaboration.

Warning: Some spoilers may be in this portion. While they aren't huge and are fairly obvious if you adventure around after a day, you can skip this part if you wish to avoid knowing anything about the game's plots.

The Setting
To be honest, Skyrim, as a setting, was a little bit depressing. I didn't really feel the grandeur of the other games, except when it came to the mountains. But here's why: The Fighters Guild is gone and replaced with "The Companions." To be fair, this was probably the only guild I really liked, and where I felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself. The Mages Guild was replaced with the Mages College. Since the Nords of Skyrim are very anti magic, the college was condemned to the far north and considerably small in members, at least, compared to the guild in Imperial City. And both the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild are in disarray and shadows of their former incarnations.


This was a common theme of Skyrim. Everything but The Companions was a bit broken feeling, underwhelming and needed your help to restore them. This involved many uninventive, tedious quests. While this was a different theme from the other games, I didn't really enjoy it. And even when you resurrected these institutions, from their proverbial ashes, or brought them to higher points, there was little to no aftereffect of that accomplishment. After the Mages College made me its Archmage, I only encountered one sycophant. And even then, it was just a snippet of passive, passing dialog from an inconsequential character. And while she'd "do anything" to get in my good graces, upon an actual interaction she reverted back to treating me like the an apprentice, student mage. This was common with everything except the Dark Brotherhood.

Another aspect that I didn't particularly like but understood, were the cities. Everywhere, with the exception of Markarth and Riften, looked fairly similar and mainly Nordic. It's not that I question the reality of this within the context of Tamriel; it's that it became monotonous for an Elder Scrolls' game. Even though the world was more detailed and larger, it felt smaller — there wasn't much to be surprised about. I really expected bigger, more interesting places with more complex NPC interactions.

This was another part that I felt a bit letdown. To me, Oblivion and Morrowind had more interesting items. I mainly had a problem with the lack of interesting mage robes and headgear. And yes, despite the addition of horned helmets — which, FYI: Vikings never really wore. The only accounts written about them involve horned headdresses and ceremonial gear in pagan ritualism. But I'm not arguing the history of Skyrim, just interjecting some actual history behind its obvious Viking influence.

A Dangerous Silhouette in a Skyrim's Night Sky
Dragons and Werewolves and Vampires, Oh My!

Dragons are something I felt were really missing from the older games. Now, I'm really confused on how I feel about them. At first, I thought they were amazing. But there wasn't much variation in them. You have your standard dragons, frost dragons, blood dragons, elder dragons, and ancient dragons.

But there seems to be only a few designs, and again, it feels monotonous after awhile. As you go on, they feel less like dragons and more like mosquitoes. I think it could have been done a lot better. I ended up killing over 70 of them by the end of my journey and 50, including around 20 elder dragons, before obtaining the dragonrend shout.
A Graveyard of Elder Dragons

Overall, I'm very happy with them being in the game. I see no reason to ever get rid of them. But they shouldn't be as abundant and similar. And I wouldn't have minded, even a cliche, rescue X person from Y dragon's den quest.

On werewolves: I would have loved werewolf and even vampire specific quests. I think adding lycanthropy was genius. However, it was a letdown, story wise, considering its potential.

Transforming is fun, and the fearful reaction of surrounding NPCs makes it even better. I do think it should have added actual stat bonuses, been involuntary during full moons — with a scenario similar to the "A Night to Remember" quest. Also, encountering powerful monster hunters, with complex back-stories, would have been epic.

There is a lot of room for expansions and added depth here, and I think that so much time went into the engine, design elements, and game-play that the story didn't get as much focus. A lot of it fell short of what it could have been. And on that note, let's take a look at it.

The Story
When everything was said and done, Oblivion had a far better story. There is a lot going on in Skyrim when you first arrive. The nation is divided, with several kingdoms wanting the province to succeed from the Empire. Dragon's have made a giant comeback and are terrorizing the land. And, like that scene from Ghostbusters when the EPA shuts down the containment center, shit is just hitting the fan all over.

You start off as, not surprisingly, a prisoner. I'm not a big fan of this motif in the Elder Scrolls writing. I know the typical apologist argument involves the player making their own story up. But, honestly, this isn't Dungeons and Dragons. If you could actually input some custom back-story into the game, then it would make more sense. It's not like we can choose our family and hometown in reality. So, it just feels a bit lazy to me.

Now, where it does succeed: It took me forever to make, even, a halfway informed decision on which side to join. The typical knee-jerk reaction is probably to join the Stormcloaks. After all, the Empire doesn't have a problem with putting you on the chopping block without even knowing your name. But to the seasoned Elder Scrolls vet, there are many fond memories of the Empire, and this can lead one into a morally gray zone. My decision was based on freedom of speech being more important than the sovereignty of the Emperor. May Talos guide you.

A vast amount of the writing is flat with a hint of drabness. The dialog is pretty stiff with more or less the same few personalities showing up. While characters can offer lots of details, it's not realistically written dialog. I didn't get emotional about much in it, either. They're also very expressionless: Both facially and in body language. I can see this being OK with your typical NPC encounter. But even many of the important characters looked and acted like automatons.

Also, I read a ton of the in game books. My favorite: Immortal Blood. It was by far the most compelling and interesting short. If you find a copy, in game, read it. I have it on my shelf in Markarth. I was disappointed, however, that none of the story's elements were present in the world. In general, a lot of the books were pretty bland. Although, reading through a choose your own adventure game in an adventure game was a matryoshkaic mind-fuck.

The most disappointing part of the story was the ending. While I've read several online arguments about it, I have to side with the people who didn't know they beat it when they beat it. It was unjustifiably weak. I was expecting a Star Wars-esque medal celebration. :'(

Other Enemies
The skeletons, various atronachs, animals, and other familiar creatures make their return. My absolute favorite new monster was the giant. These things instilled so much fear into roaming the land, which unfortunately wasn't normal for Skyrim. Yes, I like being on edge while I travel — not knowing if death is just around the corner. Although, I did end up taking my first one out while on level five. It was one of the most challenging battles of the entire game and prompted an immature video taking.

The Glitches
Here is where a lot of critics got it wrong. I will say it takes a lot more than 10 hours to run into them. Uncovering these took well over a hundred hours of game-play. They ranged from hilarious to infuriating. I'm going to list only the ones I experienced. And this is only concerning the Xbox 360 version.

  • Arrows and ice spikes being perma-lodged into characters: This was probably the most common one people complained about, and it really doesn't happen, for some reason, until your later levels. And this was fixed in the latest patch — as far as I know. If it does ever happen to you, find a way to get shot a few times or transform into your wolf form.
  • Finding yourself high off the ground: So far this has only happened while I was on a horse. The latest patch did not fix this very random occurrence. Sometimes, I would be riding to the edge of a drop-off or quick traveling to a place like the Mages College and find my characters suspended, in thin air, a fatal distance from the ground. One time, I even watched my horse and I float straight up. Needless to say, I saved a lot.
  • Random game crashes: It happened well over 10 times by the time I was done with everything. It's not a major issue and a couple times it was during an autosave — which I think was activated because of the impending crash.
  • Textures not loading: This happened a few times with Dragons. And no, I didn't install it onto my tiny hard-drive. I only experienced it a few times, so I don't know if it was fixed in the latest patch or not.
  • Quest errors: A couple times I had to restart quests because of some insurmountable glitch. Like, people getting stuck in certain places or NPCs you can't kill failing to surrender.
  • Undropable items: This was still not fixed in the latest patch. I can not drop any Bards College quest items or Gallus's journal. I had to chose to level up my stamina a few times, just to compensate for the added weight.
  • Bounty errors: What do you do when there aren't any witnesses and you still get a bounty? Hope you're a thane or have guild connections that will get you off cheaply. It happens from time to time. Although with the latest patch, I didn't notice this anymore.
  • NPC follower errors and annoyances: Sometimes they get caught on walls and, before you know it, are way behind you when you're dungeon diving, and sometimes they don't wait when you tell them to. But all the time, they will follow you around like a puppy dog — giving you zero space. The most fucked up occurrence of this was on the edge of Devil's Peak. Needless to say, I started using unrelenting force on them ... they never do learn. Also, I don't know if it was just the types of followers I picked, but none seemed to have healing spells or be willing to help me.
  • Werewolf with sword: For some reason, when I transformed with my sword drawn, a few times my wolf form got to keep it. It was one of those hilarious glitches that make the game more fun, in that unpredictable way.
  • Invisibility not so invisible: I can't count the times when I've been or gone invisible, hidden, and still been targeted by archers with pin point accuracy. Or other times when shopkeepers would get a psychic sense and detect me while I was still hidden, then tell me to get the fuck out before they called the guards. What a rip off!
  • Character being stuck in a perspective or not rendering: This was the first glitch I encountered. I was tuck in third person view for awhile. And it was to a degree where just resetting the game didn't fix. Another time my guy's hands nor full body, in third person, would render. Those times a reset did fix it.
  • Headless Archmage: I encountered this the most. When I combined the Archamage's Robes with the Morokei mask, quite often my character's face wouldn't render ... leaving only the hood. Mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
That's no Moon
The Systems
Leveling up felt the same. But I guess I'm alone at missing the athleticism attribute; it felt good progressing through the game and being able to climb things that were previously impossible. Other than that, the leveling system has been improved and is easier to plot out. I also miss being able to instantly cast magic. I understand why it would add more of a challenge, requiring it to be charged, but I still liked it the old way.
Although, being able to duel cast a stronger version is pretty awesome. To be fair, this only bugged me when I was being gang raped, in a corner, by a gaggle of Falmers or encountered a Forsworn with a knack for doing critical damage every swing.

Combat still felt the same, except for the addition of decapitation and "finishing move" animations during random final blows, like Fallout. And I'd rather have had the directional pad switch, in real time, to custom presets of weapon / magic combination, with the left bumper calling up the favorites menu. I'm not sure why this couldn't be implemented, but it would have made everything flow so much better. All in all, it's still an upgrade.

In Conclusion
This game is a massive undertaking that will consume hours of your life. You'd think with all my lodged criticisms, I'd conclude it was an average game ... you'd think wrong. It's one of the best games you'll ever play. It's gorgeous and immerses you into its world. It's complex and has a ton of stuff for you to do in it. From mining the ore needed to make your own armor to mixing potions, there is too much depth not to love Skyrim. But it's not perfect, and anyone who thinks so hasn't played it enough.


There have been many patches since the game has come out. Now, you can at least preform some mounted combat actions. The arrow / ice spike glitch is gone. And many of the glitches have been fixed. However, the latest patch was supposed to optimize the paths companions take while following you. But with two thralls and a follower, they often look like the three stooges. 

And it looks like I wasn't alone in wanting to expand and improve the entire monster aspect of the game. The upcoming DLC is going to let you actually enjoy being a vampire, give you ways to level up your lycan form, join the Dawn Guard, and they've added new creatures and characters to the game!

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